Bluesman Long John Hunter, onetime running buddy of Houston’s beloved Little Joe Washington, passed away Monday at his home in Phoenix, Arizona. Hunter, 84, was born in Ringgold, Louisiana, on July 13, 1931.
Hunter grew up in Arkansas and Texas. He was working in Beaumont when, at age 22, he saw B.B. King play at the Raven Club. Witnessing the way women warmed up to King, Hunter bought himself a guitar, put a band together, and within a month was headlining at the Raven. But Hunter’s fame and acclaim stems from his 13 years headlining at the Lobby Bar in Juarez beginning in 1957, where he frequently paired with Washington. Both men were known to swing from the rafters while playing their guitars. Hunter was known at that time as "The King of the Night."
According to Hunter's official Alligator Records biography:
Seven nights a week from sundown to sun up, Long John and his band of former Mexican bartenders played against a colorful and dangerous backdrop of soldiers, tourists, frat boys, hookers, cowboys, and playboys all fueled by a steady flow of alcohol, fights, and one night stands.
Blues and rock and roll artists from Buddy Holly to James Brown flocked to see Hunter’s notorious act in one of the world’s true sin cities. He was also close with Lightnin’ Hopkins and served as mentor to Bobby Fuller, who wrote “I Fought the Law" and sat in with Hunter on drums and guitar as a teenager.
Hunter held court at the Kings X in west El Paso after his long engagement at the Lobby. He left El Paso in 1987.
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According to the press release from Alligator Records, James Brown brought his band to see Hunter twice; the second time, Brown made the mistake of taking the stage during Hunter’s break. The crowd insisted that Brown vacate the stage so Hunter could get on with his business.
Over the course of his career Hunter recorded seven albums, although he never truly got his due until he signed with Alligator, who released three Hunter albums, Border Town Blues, Swinging From the Rafters, and a reissue of Hunter’s Ride With Me. Although he recorded some sides for Don Robey's Houston-based label Duke-Peacock, Hunter was tragically under-recorded which kept his influence, seen in the likes of Robert Cray, from being more pervasive.
Hunter last performed in 2011. He is survived by his wife, Gayle.